When you compile a list like this, you start to tremble at how much you’re really going to absorb in the ensuing months. This doesn’t even cover the misses and surprises. If you’re a casual listener, you might get through an album a day. Okay, maybe two. If you’re a fanatic, you’re spinning discographies left and right. Still, after 365 days, either person is buzzing. One’s just a little louder with the phonetics.
As I wrote back in December, in a year, you’ll have your next roundup of favorite albums. You’ll have a new favorite song. You might even have a new band you’re obsessed with. It’s far too early to tell anything right now, but I’m willing to bet at least two or three of the records on this list will make up everyone else’s come December. At the very least, they’ll get people talking.
Hold me to it, if you want.
Porcelain Raft – Strange Weekend
What we know: The debut record from Porcelain Raft is the sum of Mauro Remiddi’s 27 years of traveling across Europe, recording hundreds of tapes, and working on sundry, eclectic musical projects. It’s pregnant with personal history and influences from across the globe, not just some upstart hazing up his bedroom with a MIDI processor.
What CoS says: It’s a lush and most excellent dream pop record that stretches into the past while continuing to blaze into tomorrow. They’re on tour with M83 and can fill the spaces with the same amount of sound. –Jeremy D. Larson
Due out: January 24th via Secretly Canadian [Pre-Order]
Grimes – Visions
What we know: Indie-major label 4AD called them up from the sticks to release Visions, and the mystical gaze of Claire Boucher’s music does what a few of her gauzy contemporaries have a hard time doing: Her songs float out of the bedroom and onto the dance floor.
What CoS says: It’s easy for music like this to turn from daze to doze in a flash, but Grimes seems to know when to pop it up. –Jeremy D. Larson
Due out: January 24th via 4AD [Pre-Order]
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
What we know: The esteemed singer-songwriter and poet will grace fans with his first studio album since 2004. No stranger to grappling with heavy concepts within his lyrics, the 10 songs on this new record will deal with “the most profound quandaries of human existence – the relationship to a transcendent being, love, sexuality, loss, and death.” The announcement of the album described it as “the most overtly spiritual” of Cohen’s career.
What CoS says: Cohen is one of music’s greatest living poets, and if anyone could craft a beautiful song from such solemn subjects, it would be him. His albums have usually proven worth the wait, and Old Ideas should hopefully be no different. —Austin Trunick
Due out: January 31st via Sony [Pre-Order]
Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune
What we know: With both a Sofia Coppola score and a diverse catalog to their credit, Jean-BenoÃ®t Dunckel and Nicolas Godin of Air are no strangers to blissfully abstract accompaniment. Expect this century-old silent film re-release come February, and if the “Sonic Armada” sampler was any indication, those schooled in Tangerine Dream have nothing to fear.
What CoS says: As it just so happens, Le Voyage Dans La Lune is much like Air itself — quietly influential and undoubtedly French. If you thought the Reznor/Ross dynamic was spaced-out, this project may very well take The Orb’s place on your iTunes playlists. —David Buchanan
Due out: February 6th via Astralwerks [Pre-Order]
Air feat. Victoria Legrand – “Seven Stars”
Dr. Dog – Be the Void
What we know: On their seventh full-length, these Philadelphian psych-rockers trade symphonic for rollick. Even the tracks harkening most back to 2010’s orchestral Shame, Shame find moments of stomp, and folksy strums have largely given way to rocking blares. Though the good Dr. is still very much in, this “cathartic rock ‘n’ roll” record may be the loudest and heaviest thing they’ve ever put out.
What CoS says: With a catalog of consistent quality and the fact that their last two albums earned CoS Top Star honors, this one’s a no-brainer. The true test will be seeing where contributions from new full-time members drummer Erik “Teach” Slick and multi-talented Dimitri Manos take the band’s sound. —Ben Kaye
Due out: February 7th via ANTI- [Pre-Order]
Dr. Dog – “That Old Black Dog”
of Montreal – Paralytic Stalks
What we know: Across 10 albums, Kevin Barnes has played with all kinds of lysergic bliss, and their 11th LP sounds like a blend of former acid-pop songs and latter-day avant-electronic stretches. Its closest cousin is David Bowie’s Low, which is a great thing.
What CoS says: Beneath the vaporous instrumentals and glitchy funk, we could really use a good single this time around. —Jeremy D. Larson
Due out: February 7th via Polyvinyl [Pre-Order]
Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
What we know: To escape from the corner of a coffee shop can take some years, but with an indie debut as powerful as Van Etten’s 2010 album, epic, it only took a short amount of time for her to get noticed by The National’s Aaron Dessner. Tramp includes collabos with Dessner, Matt Barrick (Walkmen), Zach Condon (Beirut), Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak), Julianna Barwick, and more.
What CoS says: With a little help from her friends, Tramp more than gets by. Look forward to some roots rock and poison-tipped lyricism from this young talent. —Jeremy D. Larson
Due out: February 7th via Jagjaguwar [Pre-Order]
Islands – A Sleep & a Forgetting
What we know: Montreal indie rock outfit Islands stripped down for its 2009 breakthrough record, Vapours. With A Sleep & a Forgetting, the band’s fourth album, the aesthetics and sensibilities are torn apart even further to reveal the rawest nerve, resulting in an LP of potent, minimalist instrumentation and low-key, yet sultry, lyrical content about falling out of love and listening to the radio. Even with so much of the band and frontman Nick Thorburn exposed, they’ve never seemed as powerfully succinct or alluringly lethal.
What CoS says: You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone doing so very much with so very little in 2012. —Chris Coplan
Due out: February 14th via ANTI- [Pre-Order]
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
What we know: Noise pop duo Sleigh Bells set the blogosphere aflame with Treats and its cranked-to-11 hooks and reckless abandon. As a follow-up, Reign of Terror will seemingly hone the pair’s sound, as evidenced by the return of producer Shane Stoneback and the shred-tastic bombast of lead single “Born to Lose”. Stock up on your extra-strength earplugs posthaste.
What CoS says: Why fix what ain’t broke? The group has a fresh enough sound to ride through at least this record before something may have to give musically. —Chris Coplan
Due out: February 21st via Mom+Pop Music [Pre-Order]
School of Seven Bells – Ghostory
What we know: Ghostory is more gothed out than anything School of Seven Bells has done before. The record pulses with dance beats reminiscent of Front 242 death disco, the duo’s signature misty sound, and more ghost imagery than you can shake a proton pack at. Singer Alejandra Deheza spells “P-R-E-D-A-T-O-R” breathily on record centerpiece “Low Times”, a moment that’s as terrifying as it is beautiful.
What CoS says: It should be interesting to see how SVIIB fares as just a core duo without vocalist Claudia Deheza, singer Alejandra’s twin sister. Claudia left the group abruptly in 2010, so it should be interesting to see how her departure might affect its songwriting, lyrically and structurally. —Paul de Revere
Due out: February 28th via Vagrant/Ghostly International
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself
What we know: It’s been almost three years since Andrew Bird’s last outing, 2009’s Noble Beast. He’s accomplished a lot over that time (including a recent installment at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art), though he’s waited this long to produce a proper LP. Surprisingly, he’s had the material all along. Based on the album’s tracklist for Break It Yourself, we’ve heard up to at least six of the 14 tracks live, already: “Desperation Breeds…”, “Danse Caribe”, “Give It Away”, “Lazy Projector”, “Lusitania” (feat. St. Vincent), and “Hole in the Ocean Floor”.
What CoS says: Bird has proven he’s a virtuoso five times over. He doesn’t need to shatter any barriers this far into his career. So, if this stuff sounds as familiar to you as it does to us, then you’re probably not too surprised. If you’re looking for something new, well, let’s see how the other tracks fare. Whatever the case, it’ll be a very cozy listen. —Michael Roffman
Due out: March 7th via Mom + Pop Music [Pre-Order]
Bowerbirds – The Clearing
What we know: Phillip Moore and Beth Tacular have always bounced their sound off of the roots of American music, and while their LP3 echoes with similar tones, it’s a richer production this time around. “Tuck the Darkness In” earns its crescendos, flips a catchy melody into the air, and stays rooted.
What CoS says: Bowerbirds take the faux out of the folk that’s around these days and get down to the core of their songs without cluttering it with smoke and mirrors. Here’s hoping they can still make the wounds as well as salve them. —Jeremy D. Larson
Due out: March 6th via Dead Oceans
Ceremony – Zoo
What we know: For their first record with the famed Matador Records, California hardcore outfit Ceremony enlisted producer John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Simple Plan) with an aim to “refine their jagged sound while continuing to pursue themes of exurban alienation and confinement.” To give listeners a taste of the new record ahead of its official release date, Ceremony will release “Hysteria” b/w “I’m a Bug” (Urinals cover) on February 7th.
What CoS says: If “Hysteria” is any indication, Zoo will be a tamer—if no less enjoyable—affair than their previously more abrasive albums. —Harley Brown
Due out: March 6th via Matador
The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea
What we know: Stephin Merritt says he’ll be returning to more synth-heavy and acoustic arrangements on The Magnetic Fields’ 10th LP—their first with Merge since 1999’s classic collection 69 Love Songs—with his usual cast of collaborators: Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, John Woo, Shirley Simms, Johny Blood, and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket!). Signature amusing and quirky song titles abound— “All She Cares About Is Mariachi”, “Infatuation (With Your Gyration)”, and “I’ve Run Away to Join the Fairies”.
What CoS says: More inventive and endlessly catchy pop treasures from the man responsible for some of the greatest pop records of the last 20 years. —Lainna Fader
Due out: March 6th via Merge [Pre-Order]
The Men – Open Your Heart
What we know: The kind of volume that was on Leave Home, their previous album released not eight months ago, is hard to eclipse. But leave it to The Men to plumb even deeper into their milk crates to continue moving forward with their sound. There’s a bit of country, a bit of kraut-rock, and some ’70s AOR, and the whole thing still stays jagged in the best ways.
What CoS says: It’s a short turn-around time, but nothing on this album sounds tossed off. Even if some of the razors are less sharp this time around, it works. —Jeremy D. Larson
Due out: March 6th via Sacred Bones
The Shins – Port of Morrow
What we know: It’s been a solid five years since their last album. James Mercer is the only original member in the lineup. They’ll release it on his new label, Aural Apothecary. So, things have changed. But so far, based on three of the album’s 10 tracks (which includes the recently unveiled “Simple Song”), The Shins remain intact.
What CoS says: Despite the shake up in the lineup, there really isn’t much working against this album. Sure, Broken Bells wasn’t an awe-inspiring juggernaut, but it had its moments. With Mercer at home now, and seemingly alone (at least in the studio), one has to believe this will be, at the very least, a solid follow-up to Wincing the Night Away. —Michael Roffman
Due out: March 20th via Aural Apothecary and Columbia Records [Pre-Order]
Spiritualized – Sweet Heart, Sweet Light
What we know: When he debuted some new songs at Royal Albert Hall in October, Jason Pierce had a choir and orchestra in tow. He’s said the album “encompassed all I love in rock ‘n’ roll music. It’s got everything from BrÃ¶tzmann and Berry right through to Dennis and Brian Wilson.”
What CoS says: The seminal Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is an intimidating high-water mark. It sounds like his heart’s in the right place for this to rise to that level. Dicey live recordings of new material aren’t the best gauge, though, so we’re still holding out for a studio preview. —Jeremy D. Larson
Due Out: UK on March 19th via Double Six. U.S. release is set for sometime in March via Fat Possum
“Hey Jane” (Live):
Alabama Shakes – TBD
Photo by Ben Kaye
What we know: With a hearty co-sign from Patterson Hood of The Drive-By Truckers, Alabama Shakes are off to inject the soul of the south into the mainstream with their first official studio LP.
What CoS says: To prove Alabama Shakes can ride longer waves than those created by the press lauded upon them at CMJ and subsequent live shows, the Dap-Tone/Muscle Shoals acolytes are going to have to show the world they can write some memorable songs. — Jeremy D. Larson
Due out: April via ATO Records